02 Aug Interview with Joanna Powell Colbert – Creator of the Gaian Tarot Deck
Ethony: Can you share a little about yourself. Where you are from, what you are passionate about and what is your profession?
Joanna: I grew up in Los Angeles and moved to the Pacific Northwest in 1990. I live on a small island near Bellingham, Washington, with a population of around 900. On clear days I can see Canada from the ferry dock!
I’m passionate about connecting with the natural world in a deep and intimate way (which is really the theme of the Gaian Tarot). I’m passionate about the Circle Way, a method of holding intentional conversations. I’m passionate about making art and writing. I’m passionate about guiding others into coming into their own deep wisdom and sacred work. I’m passionate about the Sacred Feminine; I’ve been walking the path of Goddess Spirituality since the early 1980s. And I’m passionate about the tarot and other oracles, especially when they unlock a person’s own creativity and inner guidance.
My profession is artist / writer / teacher / mentor / priestess. I’ve been embodying those roles part-time since the early 1990s, and full time since 2010.
Ethony: How did this journey of creating the deck unfold?
Joanna: I started studying the tarot seriously in the 1980s, and began to read professionally around 1990. I wanted to create my own deck all those years, but was busy doing other things. Plus, I felt daunted by the idea of creating 78 cards. I actually stepped away from tarot and other esoteric interests in the late 1990s to focus on nature connection and the presence of Place instead. When I came back to tarot, it was like answering a call. I knew it was time to create my own deck. I brought together my love for the archetypal imagery of the tarot with my love for the natural world and my belief that nature is our greatest teacher and healer.
Ethony: What were the unexpected challenges creating this deck?
Joanna: It took so much longer than I had ever anticipated or intended — nine years in all. After I finished the majors, I realized I had not planned well when I decided to use the medium of photorealistic colored pencil, because it is so time-intensive. But I could not stop mid-deck and do the rest of the cards in another medium, so it just took a very long time. During the years I was working on it, I was also running a web design business (my day job) and helping to care for my elderly father. So I could not work on it full time. In retrospect, I think that the depth of my life experience during those nine years found its way into the deck and made it all the richer.
Ethony: What is your favourite Tarot Card? (of your deck or in general)
Joanna: In general, I’m always looking to see how a deck creator interprets the High Priestess and the Moon, as I have such a personal connection with both of those cards. In the Gaian, my favorite card is the Guardian of Water (Queen of Cups), because she embodies the Ocean Mother from many cultures around the world to me. That wasn’t my intention when I created the card, but she sure turned out that way.
Ethony: How do you use the Tarot in your spiritual practice?
Joanna: I pull a card every morning, asking for wisdom for the day to come. I change up decks for my morning cards, so there’s always something new. I use the Gaian almost exclusively for readings. I work with it almost every day to help clarify options and make decisions, especially in business and in my creative life. I use the cards as journaling prompts or conversation starters for almost every circle and retreat that I host.
I think that the act of creating a deck (you will know this, Ethony!) is probably the best way to connect with the tarot as a spiritual practice, because you are focused so deeply on the symbols and meaning of each card. You ask yourself, What does this card mean to me? How has it manifested in my life? How do I want to to interpret it in my own deck? Creating your own deck, even if its for your own personal use and not for publication, is one of the deepest, most profound practices anyone can ever do. I highly recommend it!
Ethony: Any advice for the artists and creators reading this?
Joanna: Figure out what your own unique voice is, and what new slant you can bring to the tarot. What hasn’t been said that you feel needs to be said? Who or what is not represented in most decks, that is important to you? Create the deck you want for yourself, and don’t think about the marketplace. That way, your vision will be clear. Try out different art mediums, and make a few sample cards to see how they go and if you like the results. Then do the math. If it takes you twenty hours to create one card, how long will it take you in months or years to complete 78 of them? And do you want to go on that journey? Then — be the Fool, jump off the cliff and do it.
Ethony: Any exciting projects in the creative pipeline?
Joanna: Lots! This spring I released a majors-only art deck, called the Pentimento Tarot, created in beeswax collage. It was great fun to do something so different from the Gaian. I’m working on a new full 78-card tarot deck now with a collaborator, but we are keeping details about it under wraps for now. I’ve also been working on a book for the last couple of years that compares the seasons of the year to the seasons of a woman’s life. And I continue to call circles together, mostly of women, to come away with me on retreat twice a year. Those retreats are some of the most meaningful, creative work I do.
Rapid Fire Round!
Starsign? Capricorn Sun, Taurus Moon, Taurus Rising. Earth earth earth.
Favourite flavour of ice- cream? Coconut Bliss brand Cherry Amaretto. (I’m allergic to dairy.)
Do you have any pets? Not anymore. Both of our elderly kitties died last year.
What book are you currently reading? You mean books, right? The Hour of Land by Terry Tempest Williams, The Creative Tarot by Jessa Crispin,On Getting Stuck (on writer’s block) by Laraine Herring, and Blood Orange by Susan Witting Albert.
Name a film you have seen more than 5 times? Um. I can’t think of any!
Who is your biggest inspiration? At the moment, Terry Tempest Williams. Longer term: Angeles Arrien. And two of my favorite people on the planet: Christina Baldwin and Ann Linnea of peerspirit.com.
What is your go-to crystal? Beach stones. Does that count? I do have a small crystal ball that I’m learning to scry with.